Speakers Of The Legislative Assembly Of
Ontario 1867-1984, by Kathleen Finlay, Toronto, Legislative Library, Research
and Information Services, 1985.
As explained in the forward of this book
little is known about the men who have presided over the legislative life of
the province" and this collection of biographies seeks to fill that gap.
Unfortunately, the author has chosen to treat only "selective issues that
have risen in connection with the Speaker's functions" and has paid
"particular attention to the political careers of these men". The
result is a book which presents brief sketches of thirty-one politicians who
happened only incidentally to have served as Speakers.
John Stevenson, for instance, the first
Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly is described as a self-made man who
had enjoyed success in lumber and shipping ventures before turning to politics
as a moderate Reformer. Unexpectedly elected Speaker, he was apparently equal
to the challenge, presiding over an often turbulent Legislature "with a
mix of firmness and flexibility". The problems he had to face are
mentioned only briefly, and do not seem exceptional, the hostility between the
government and opposition parties and the demands of Members seeking action on
their private bills. Nothing is said specifically to explain how he handled
himself as Speaker. His successor, Richard Scott, is noted for having much less
success in the Chair, occupying the position for barely, two weeks before
resigning to accept an appointment as provincial Commissioner of Crown Lands.
His resignation coincided with the collapse of the coalition administration of
Sandfield Macdonald and gave rise to heated accusations of partisanship which
did much to undermine the integrity of the Speakership. Those who followed,
James Currie, Rupert Wells and Charles Clarke, were sufficiently competent to
restore the prestige of the office. Again, however, the accounts about them do
not adequately explain how they managed it. Currie'is basically described as
'popular", Wells "worthy" and Clarke "firm". And so
the book continues.
Paradoxically, the ability of the author to
write well adds to a sense of disappointment and frustration. The sketches of
the Speakers are teasers and the reader is often left wanting to know more. The
fact that so little is generally known about Ontario's past Speakers demands
far more substantial treatment than the outlines presented in this book. If
these Speakers are to be rescued from obscurity and oblivion, more information
has to be presented about their tenure in the Chair.
Perhaps the most interesting anecdote
concerns Speaker William Stewart. He is described as "a colourful
character with an often impetuous temperament, something of an enigma to those
who knew him well". His tenure as Speaker began in 1944 and was cut short
abruptly in 1947, during his second term, when confronted by the Minister of
Highways over the trivial issue of guest seating in the Speaker's Gallery.
Offended by the Minister's ridicule, Stewart felt that he could no longer
command the respect of the House and resigned on the spot.
Charles Robert, Table Research, House of Commons